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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Hells Gate Treasure

Excerpt #29 from A TIME TO...

Under the Hells Gate Bridge is a special place for Al and anyone else who knows the story of the sunken gold treasure that rests directly below the span which now carries long freight trains to and from Queens and Manhattan. Ever since Al was told that a fortune in gold went down there with a Dutch ship in the 1600s, he fantasized about recovering it for himself and his family. He just had to figure out a way to get the gold without being killed by the water’s powerful undertow, which claimed the ship, its crew and cargo. Many tried to claim it, but lost their lives instead of finding their fortune. So, when the bridge was built above it, the name, “Hells Gate” came to mind and stuck.

Al is mesmerized by the hundreds of swirling finger-like funnels of water that pull down anything on the surface of the East River as it flows under the Hells Gate.

“So close, yet so far,” Phil says when he arrives and interrupts Al’s reverie.

“What are you talking about?” Al asks.

“The gold… man, you’d think they could take one of those little submarines down there and just attach some cables from a big crane and pull it up.”

“If it were that easy, somebody would have brought it up a long time ago,” Al notes.

“Yeah, you’re right. So close, yet so far,” Phil repeats, more profoundly this time.

“Have you ever wanted something so bad, but something or someone prevented you from getting it, even though it was right there in front of you?” Al wonders.

“I can think of a few things,” Phil says softly.

Al understands Phil to mean he would have had his parent’s marriage survive. Being a rock star was probably another of Phil’s “So close, yet so far” wishes.

Al had one of his own wishes at the top of his mind at the time – dating Helene Colangelo – which he had kept to himself.

“So, you’re not dying?” Al asks to get the conversation back on track.

“No, man, I’m not dying. But I thought I did a few times,” Phil says with a chuckle.

Al stares at Phil with irritation written all over his face.

“You don’t believe me? Well, I guess I wouldn’t believe me either if it didn’t happen. It’s hard to explain. I’m not talking about being dead physically. My body didn’t shut down, but everything else inside me did. Suddenly, I was just a blank page with no past, only a here and now. It was kind of scary and exciting at the same time because everything that was familiar became strange, and I had to learn about everything all around me again, but this time with new eyes.”

Suddenly, this scene from Al’s life froze and Al now says out loud to himself,” What is this? Am I dead now? Is this a dream? What’s happening to me?” No soothing, mysterious voice speaks to him now as it did earlier. The only response is an unsettling silence that lasts about half a minute before the scene unfreezes and resumes where it had paused.

“”I don’t know what you mean? Your body’s dead when your heart and brain stop working. You died some other way?” Al asks incredulously.

“Yeah, you’ve heard of people whose body died and they have an ‘out-of-body-experience’? Well, just the opposite happens to me. My body is functioning, but it has nothing to tell it what it should be doing. That part of me is dead.”

“Very strange... I still don’t get it, but I’ll take your word for it,” Al says as Phil leans over the railing and stares blankly into the East River. “Is that why you … you, ah, eh, keep chan… I mean why you have so many different personnaaal….. why you have lots of interests?” Al asks, wishing he hadn’t.

“You know, it’s kind of funny. The first time it happened, I was in shock. It just kind of paralyzed me for a little while. I didn’t know up from down, or in from out. But then I figured it out,” Phil reveals.

“Figured what out?”

“Figured out that the person I was did die, which was sad, but it was great to move on from all the problems and hurts of the old me. The only problems I had going forward were deciding who I was going to be and what I was going to do as the new me.”

“Sorry, I have enough trouble figuring out who the original, one and only me is. How can you do what you just said without going crazy?” a befuddled Al asks.

“Maybe I am crazy... maybe. But, I’m sure I’d be crazy if things stayed the same, if the old ‘me’ didn’t die... very crazy.”

Al and everyone else who knew Phil and his many selves think he is crazy. Some even call him “The Crazy Chameleon.” But as Al relives this moment in his life, he better understood Phil’s explanation. Like Phil, Al had assumed different roles over the course of his life – child, son, brother, student, friend, enemy, adult, Peace Corps Volunteer, employee, coworker, husband, father. And while it wasn’t quite the same as what Phil experienced, Al at least now could understand him a little better. In this moment of distant reflection, Al sees Phil less a comical, crazy character than a guy who was just trying to cope the best he could with the trials of his life.

“So, when you said, ‘A dead man doesn’t want, need, or care anything about power and glory,’ what exactly did you mean?”

“Haa, ha, ha,” Phil laughs as he throws a stone into the river. “I don’t know. It just came out of my mouth. But you know, each time I change, I get new wants, needs, and cares. And, somehow, after going through the changes, “power” and “glory” become less and less important to me. I’m just interested in finding a comfortable place for me in the world. Hey, power and glory never last. Believe it or not, I’m looking for something in my life that lasts.”

“So, why do you want to be class president? What’s in it for you, if you don’t want power and glory?”

“Simple, I don’t like some of the things going on in our school, and I don’t see or hear anyone else running for president who says they’ll do anything about them. I’d really rather let someone else do it. Who knows, maybe I’ll get something done and discover something about myself that I don’t know.”

“Hey, man, I’m glad you’re not dying,” Al tells him sincerely.

“Yeah, me too,” Phil says matter-of-factly. “Dying inside scared me a lot the first couple times. But physical death really scares me… just too final. Once my body is gone, it’s gone.”

1 comment:

  1. This drew me right in, Ronald. Your writing is nice and tight. Your dialogue is very realistic. The only thing I don't like are the adverbs in your attributions. But hey - that's just me. My editor showed me how not to do that.
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